Doing nothing - a Cuban national pastime, boredom, or a better way to live?

The first thing we noticed arriving at the Atocha railway station in central Madrid, just off the flight from Havana, was that there were shops stocked with things that you might want to buy. Now there's a novelty. 

The second thing was people running. This way and that - up from platforms, down onto other platforms, late for a train, hurrying to work or a meeting. And that urgency was also noteworthy, because it made us realise that Cubans don't seem to rush about in the way people do in busier countries.

Rather the reverse. Sitting and chatting - or just sitting - looks (from the outside at least) like a national pastime.

Perhaps it's the heat, although it's hot in Madrid at the moment  too. Perhaps there isn't much else to do - Cuban TV is pretty terrible, there's no internet, no money for distractions, and precious few things to do with your spare time, even if you had money. Perhaps when you are doing a Government job for minuscule wages, there's no incentive to do anything but sit around and have a good natter with your workmates. Certainly we went into plenty of cafes, bus ticket offices, shops etc where serving customers appeared to be an annoying break in the business of catching up on the gossip

Or maybe it's just that Cubans like to sit around and chat - or just sit around. Women do it a lot inside their homes. When they aren't shopping, cooking or mopping the floors (a good Cuban housewife mops her floor at least once a day), Cuban women spend lots of time in each other's houses talking - unfortunately my Spanish isn't good enough to know what about.

For men, the front door step is a favourite place, or a shady park bench. They might start quite early. Go to a park first thing in the morning and there will be a few men (not all elderly) setting the world to rights. 

I wish now I'd asked if these are enjoyable conversations, or if people wished they had something more constructive to do. But I didn't. They may be bored and frustrated. They may be enjoying themselves. Or a bit of both.

Still, it made me think that in New Zealand, Europe and I suspect elsewhere, people probably do far too much rushing about, and far too little sitting and watching the world go by.

Here are more results of Geoff and I watching Cubans watching the world. If you click on the photos, you should be able to scroll through the gallery. You may recognise some characters...